How Children Benefit from Learning in Nature

By August 20, 2021Health Tips
Last week we talked about the benefits of spending time in nature.  While we focused more on the benefits that adults see, children have even more benefits when they spend time in a natural environment.  They particularly benefit when they are learning outdoors in nature, instead of spending most of the school day indoors in a classroom.  Let’s talk more about it.
What are “forest” or “nature” schools?
How Children Benefit from Learning in NatureIn Scandinavian countries, there is a long tradition of “forest schools” for younger children.  This essentially means that a majority of the learning throughout the school day, and school year, takes place outdoors, in natural settings.  Children in this type of school spend almost all of their school day outdoors.  They are outdoors no matter the season and sometimes in less than ideal weather.  There is a Scandinavian saying that essentially means “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”
In the US, there is a movement to bring more learning outdoors for children.  Preschools that are primarily outdoors have been called “nature schools” and they are popping up all over the country.  With the outdoors as their classroom, children use natural materials to learn math, art, music, literacy, and of course science.  These schools also embrace the idea that there is no such thing as bad weather!  They appreciate that dealing with changing weather helps children to develop resiliency.  When kids are dressed appropriately for the weather, they enjoy rain, snow, and mud just as much as they enjoy sunshine!  Of course, they don’t stay out in dangerous weather.
Elementary schools around the country are also trying to incorporate more outdoor natural environment learning.  This can be done by improving the natural areas around a school, including the playground, and holding classes outdoors in these areas, and by going on field trips to natural environments more frequently.
How do children benefit from spending time in nature?
There are numerous benefits for children when they spend time in nature and more specifically when they learn in nature.  Here are some of the benefits:
  • Nature exposure for expectant mothers can promote better fetal growth for healthier birth weights.  This gets children off to a healthier start.
  • Time spent in natural sunlight when children are young can reduce the development of nearsightedness.
  • Exposure to sunlight also increases vitamin D levels, which is important for growing bones.
  • Outdoor play in nature leads to increased physical activity and reduces the risk of obesity.
  • Learning in nature can improve relationship skills.
  • Nature-based learning can reduce stress, anger, and aggression, and improves impulse control.
  • Children with ADD or ADHD show increased focus and attention and decreased overall symptoms of ADD or ADHD when learning in nature.  The greener the setting, the better the focus.
  • Exploration and discovery through outdoor experiences in nature can promote a child’s motivation to learn by increasing enthusiasm for learning and improving engagement.
  • Learning in a natural environment can lead to better academic performance, across all subjects.
  • Nature-based learning also enhances critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
  • It supports and encourages kids’ natural curiosity about the world around them.
  • Learning in a natural environment enhances creativity.
  • Learning in nature helps children to develop empathy for others.
  • Children also develop a better sense of community and learn to care for the world around them.
  • Children learn resilience by dealing with different types of weather and other obstacles present in nature.
If you have small children, or grandchildren, you might want to do some outdoor learning with them.  You might also want to speak to their teacher or school principal about increasing the amount of outdoor learning.
If you have any questions about the benefits of
outdoor learning, please log into your account and send
us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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